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Page last updated at 16:38 GMT, Wednesday, 22 December 2010

How new rules could change the F1 championship

Ted Kravitz
By Ted Kravitz
BBC pit-lane reporter

No wonder Fernando Alonso is looking forward to the 2011 rule changes . If this year's cars had the moveable rear wings set for the new F1 season, it's very likely the Ferrari driver would have won the championship instead of Sebastian Vettel.

Had Alonso had the moveable rear wing at this year's final race in Abu Dhabi, he would have been able to overtake Vitaly Petrov's Renault and would have been in a position to challenge Nico Rosberg's Mercedes for the fourth place he needed to win the title.

But while the new driver-adjusted bodywork comes too late for Alonso's 2010 campaign, next year's rule changes (including the return of the Kers energy storage and power boost systems) are set to make overtaking considerably easier and have a big impact on race strategies and, ultimately, championship results.


Formula 1 rear wings are made up of two main elements. The main plane, which is the flat, horizontal part, and the flap, which is the piece of carbon fibre angled up against the airflow.

The rear wing of Sebastian Vettel's 2010 Red Bull
All change: the flaps on the rear wings will move in 2011

The flap is the part that will move. It will be pushed open, like a letterbox, against the airflow. The flap will move by five centimetres - a significant amount in aerodynamic terms.

Moving the flap up allows more air through the rear wing gap, which stalls the main plane and dumps drag, effectively giving the same result as 2010's F-duct. In fact, it is anticipated that the effect will be much greater than the F-duct, and could even be as much or more than the boost delivered by Kers.

The flap will be pushed up by actuators. It remains to be seen how teams make it work and whether it will be electrically or hydraulically operated by the driver via a button on the steering wheel.

Indeed, when you add Kers management systems and the moveable rear wing to the many buttons and switches already in use, you can quickly see that mental agility and capacity will be key requirements for any driver who wants to be successful in 2011.


The driver will be able to move the wing at any time throughout practice and qualifying. This way engineers can select appropriate gear ratios after measuring the car's maximum speed with the wing open. There is no point having a sudden straight line speed boost only to then hit the rev limiter.

But there are very different rules governing use of the moveable rear wing in the race.

Firstly, drivers will only be able to move the wing on one, designated straight. So at Silverstone, for example, it will be the Hangar straight and Barcelona will be the pit straight, but it might not be such a clear choice at other circuits. Charlie Whiting, race director of governing body the FIA, will choose.

Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel collide at the Turkish GP

Will we see fewer clashes like Vettel and Webber's collision if overtaking is easier?

Secondly, drivers will only be allowed to use it in a specific zone on the straight. This zone is expected to start a few hundred metres down the straight and end at the braking point for the next corner. This is to allow the cars to be securely established at high speed before taking away downforce. The sudden removal of rear downforce has to be done with great care.

As soon as the driver touches the brake pedal for the corner, the flap snaps shut and the rear wing provides downforce again.

Thirdly, drivers will not be allowed to move their wings in the first two laps of the race, nor during the two laps following a safety car period. This is understandable as everyone will be tightly bunched together.

The fourth and arguably most intriguing rule about moving the wing in the race is that the car behind must be within one second of the car ahead in order to be allowed to activate the wing. The car's electronic control unit (ECU) will be sent timing information to govern when the driver is allowed to move his wing.

Crucially, the driver ahead is not allowed to move his rear wing to defend the overtaking move, unless he too is within one second of another car in front.


This will inevitably change race strategies. Championship-challenging teams will be less concerned about getting held up by midfield cars, as Ferrari were in Abu Dhabi, because as long as they can close to within a second, they will be able to overtake fairly easily. This will allow them a little more freedom in when to pit.

And even between the likes of Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, these new rules will have a huge effect because for the first time, the driver running behind will have an advantage, and will be able to use that to potentially win a race.

Take Singapore 2010 as an example. Vettel had the fastest car but finished second to Alonso because Ferrari covered Red Bull's pit stop and were always ahead on the road.

With a moveable rear wing, if Vettel could have stayed within a second of Alonso, he could have waited until the last lap before activating his moveable rear wing and passing the Ferrari.


Alonso would have been powerless to defend because the driver ahead is not allowed to move his rear wing to neutralise an attack.

Of course, the bottom line is that no one - not the teams, not the drivers, not the FIA - actually knows how this will work in practice, and they will not until the first race in Bahrain on 13 March.

As a result, it will be a work in progress for the first few races, as the FIA look to see whether it is working as they intended, and refine it if not.

It could be that, with this new rule, having track position could change from being a blessing to a curse.

It may be that if there are evenly matched cars, they race in pack, in order to be able to overtake with your moveable wing later on.

Whatever, it's understandable that, to many, the moveable rear wing will be seen as an artificial gimmick that will cheapen the value of overtaking manoeuvres and could lead to unjust results gained by good timing rather than genuine pace.

However, as long as the wing works as intended, that will not be the case.

The aim is to allow cars that are significantly faster than others to be able to overtake, but for it to remain difficult for one car to overtake another of similar pace.

How it works in practice remains to be seen.

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